This summer I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I've had some pretty amazing experiences in my life, if I do say so myself. In my work with Amnesty International, our LA chapter is committed to helping refugee resettlement in LA. We were connected with IRIS, the Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service, one of three refugee resettlement agencies left in the LA/OC areas (I'll get into this in another post), and one of our first tasks was to help welcome a family from El Salvador and take them to their new home in LA. I did not expect all the emotions I experienced that day, and the love and joy I witnessed that day is indescribable--though I'm going to try to describe it to you.
Before the airport pick up date we were informed that there was a family of nine arriving from El Salvador, and volunteers were needed to welcome and help transport them. Most, if not all refugees in LA are resettled here on family reunification cases, especially nowadays with stricter policies and restrictions on how many refugees our country will resettle (another issue I will expand on in another post). So, this family we were welcoming, had a few members that were already here.
My Amnesty cohorts and I came with a little welcome sign, flowers, water, and some treats for the family. As a native Angeleno, the same way I want my guests to feel welcome and at home when they are in my home, I want people to feel welcome and at home in LA. As the daughter of immigrants, and being surrounded by immigrants my whole life, I just kept thinking how terrifying it might be for some folks who arrive here, not speaking English, not knowing many people here, not being familiar with the customs, and how intimidating and isolating that can feel. For these families that endure so much and are forced to leave their homes, I want even more so that they are welcomed and able to make LA their home, too.
We met three of the family members already here at the airport, and the moment the arriving members came down the escalators, it was like no one else was in the airport. Seeing these families reunited, hugging and kissing each other, tears filling their eyes (and mine!), I'm not sure I've ever witnessed that kind of explosive joy and love. I felt so blessed to get to witness this and be a small part of this day. I replay this moment often in my head as a reminder of this joy and love, as a reminder of hope and inspiration, and as a reminder of how blessed I am. It was literally like a heart bursting into rainbows and fireworks.
We drove them to the home they were all staying in, and it was a home that their family members here were already staying in. I don't know how many bedrooms are in that house, but it's not a very big house, and I couldn't imagine how at least twelve of them were going to sleep in it. But we were also told that, the family wanted to stick together. So even as they looked for a more permanent home, the most important thing was that they were together. It was such a humbling experience. And when we arrived at the house, there were a couple other family members there cooking tacos in the front yard ready for a little welcome party.
The entire family was so grateful that we were there to welcome them at the airport and help drive them to their home; but I wanted to thank them for allowing us to even be a part of this day. They even invited us to stay for tacos, but this was their day to enjoy with each other. We were not going to intrude upon that. Thankfully we have had the opportunity to stay in touch, and I hope this new friendship will continue for many years. The family is so kind, gracious, loving, and truly just inspiring. For some reason, some people in our country want us to fear people who come seeking refuge in our country, but our country was built on the backs of refugees. These are the kinds of people we should want in our country.
We realized and learned that day, that while our act seemed so small, it can make a huge difference in these families' first days here. It's an experience I wish everyone could have because there is no way I can describe in words the impact that day had on me. If you're in LA and interested in getting involved, please feel free to send me a message. If you're not in LA and interested in helping with refugee resettlement, even if it's just a simple airport welcome, contact your nearest refugee resettlement agency to see how you can get involved. I promise you, it is absolutely life changing.
In my next post, I will share some insights on what actually happens after resettlement, and the little things none of us think about. Stay tuned!